LHPD Chief takes key role in new program

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By ANTHONY FLORES

Police Chief Maverick Campbell knows the importance of drug prevention, and when he found a program to address that issue, he immediately wanted to bring it home to Liberty Hill.

With the new program in hand, Campbell sought out a partnership with Liberty Hill ISD to establish a new way to address the dangers of violence and drug use and how to avoid these behaviors by partnering with the non-profit organization Law Enforcement Against Drugs (LEAD).

LEAD started in 2014 as a way to protect youth and communities from drugs and drug-related crimes, peer to peer/cyberbullying and violence.

The program works with educators, community leaders, and families to accomplish their goals and keep kids from kindergarten to high school safe.

“The Superintendent Association of New Jersey and the chief of police were looking for a research-based, proven-effective drug prevention program for students in New Jersey,” said Valerie Penksa, a trainer with LEAD. “So, they formed LEAD, and we’ve partnered with the Mendez Foundation, who are drug prevention writers of curricula.”

The Mendez Foundation began during the late 1960s. It focused on creating violence and drug prevention programs aimed at students from K-12.

LEAD uses two programs to address issues, one is Too Good for Drugs, and the other is Too Good for Violence.

“Their program is research-based, proven effective and on the national registry,” said Penksa. “Trained officers are certified to go in and teach lessons from kindergarten to 8th grade. There’s additional training if they want to do 9th grade.”

After meeting LEAD’s CEO Nicholas DeMauro and COO John Lindsey during an international police chief conference, Campbell knew he wanted to bring the program to Liberty Hill ISD.

“I got some details and did some research on it, and they asked me at the banquet dinner we had there if I would be willing to be the state representative for the entire state of Texas,” said Campbell. “I did more research before I committed to it and worked on it over the last year.”

After accepting the position and attending the LEAD conference a year later, Campbell began reaching out to LHISD, wanting to start locally before expanding around the state.

“The school district considered it, did some research, did their homework, and then I conducted two informational briefings,” he said. “That information briefing delivered the program information with over 100 local police chiefs, sheriffs, superintendents, and local officials.”

Campbell used the network available to him, helping the program host training from Feb. 10-14, successfully training more than 60 instructors throughout the state.

“It was a real success,” said Campbell. “The officers like it, and the kids like it.”

Training for LEAD takes place over five days, and only takes one day for those who are already school resource officers. On Valentine’s Day, several officers from Liberty Hill and the surrounding area completed their training with the final step in the process, getting in front of a class and giving the scripted presentation.

The presentations include several different pieces. Each presentation covered topics from nicotine use to underage drinking. Travis County Deputy Kim Richards ran a lesson on underage drinking.

Richards presented questions to 8th graders, asking about reasons people use alcohol, and about the consequences of underage drinking. Later, Richards explained the adverse side effects of underage drinking, continually engaging with the class, and keeping students involved with the presentation.

After covering everything in the script, students were divided into groups and given a board game to play. The game presented students with different scenarios and ways to deal with each one.

Along with preventing drug use, another primary goal of LEAD is preventing violence in all its forms. Building a strong emotional foundation is the first thing emphasized.

“Bullying is a big issue. We teach conflict resolution,” said Penksa. “For example, with the 5th grade, the first five lessons, whether we’re teaching Too Good for Drugs or Too Good for Violence, are social and emotional learning. They learn how to set a goal, how to make a decision, and how to identify their emotions.”

Once students learn how to identify their emotions, the next set of lessons focuses on the teaching of strategies for dealing with their feelings, or any risky situation.

“We teach respect for self and others, conflict resolution, anger management, identifying and managing a bullying situation and being a positive role model,” said Penska. “We call it Too Good for Violence and Social Perspectives.”

A significant role in the safety of the kids in the community begins at home with their parents, and that’s something Campbell puts a great emphasis on.

“I would like the parents to know that a program is better than no program at all,” he said. “I want the parents and teachers out there to know that this program is evidence-based. There are success stories from it. The first step is admitting there can be issues in the community, and the next step is figuring out what we’re going to do about it.”

Whether a problem exists or not isn’t the issue for Campbell, it’s preventing one from occurring that has him pushing for an emphasis on the LEAD program.

“Even if we don’t have a problem in Liberty Hill ISD, that doesn’t mean we won’t have a problem,” said Campbell. “It’s all about early intervention, prevention, and getting ahead of things.”

With Liberty Hill growing at such a fast pace, Campbell feels getting out in front of any potential problems with drugs or violence is the most effective way of keeping young people in the community safe.

“Crime rates will increase as we grow larger as a community, and our kids are our future,” said Campbell. “If we can save even just one life, then we’re accomplishing our goals. We want to save all lives. That’s the ultimate goal. We can’t afford to lose a child.”

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